Romanian lawyer Ernest Virgil Popovici founded Popovici & Asociatii in 1995, as soon as Romanian law permitted incorporation of professional partnerships. In 2002, Florian Nitu joined the firm as Managing Partner, and five years later the firm changed its name to Popovici Nitu & Asociatii.
The firm continued to expand, and in 2010 it launched PNSA Tax — its autonomous legal tax advisory business, in a joint venture with former Big Four senior tax managers. In 2012, the International Arbitration Practice Group is set up distinctively, which now, together with the firm’s impressive Litigation Practice, forms one of the largest dispute resolution teams in the country.
In October of this year, Popovici Nitu & Asociatii became Popovici Nitu Stoica & Asociatii when it promoting Corporate M&A lawyer Bogdan Stoica to named partner (reported on by CEE Legal Matters on October 1, 2015). Stoica also serves as Deputy Managing Partner.
As it celebrates its 20th anniversary, PNSA consists of over 80 lawyers and counsels providing excellent service. Founding Partner Ernest Popovici was kind enough to share his thoughts with us.
Popovici Nitu Stoica & Asociatii is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In a nutshell, what would you say the two decades of the firm’s existence stand for?
E.V.P.: Popovici Nitu Stoica & Asociatii has provided legal assistance on at least 150 major projects, amounting to well above EUR 15 billion of aggregate investment value, both greenfield and M&A, public and private, or dispute resolution assignments. We have been also involved in a significant number of regulatory and institution building projects.
But beyond our track record of success, Popovici Nitu Stoica & Asociatii stands as a team of true professionals, sharing solid values such as top-notch expertise and loyalty to our clients, innovation, and commercial awareness. We’re proud of our team of over 80 lawyers, many of whom have spent their entire careers with our firm.
Do you find local/domestic clients enthusiastic to work with a foreign lawyer, or do Serbian companies tend to gravitate to Serbian lawyers?
M.H.: At the very beginning it was very difficult to convince domestic clients to work with a foreign lawyer, not in the least because I was the first one there. They also found it difficult to understand the importance and duty of confidentiality, so competitors in business were very reluctant to instruct me. I would say Serbian companies – as in Serbian-owned – are much more likely to work with domestic lawyers. They have probably been with them from the start, as sole practitioners/friends and just stick with them.
What would you say was the secret of your success over the last 20 years in the market?
E.V.P.: It was truly a team effort. Within a legal practice nothing works in a sustainable manner without a reliable team, a proper organization ethos, and hard work. A strong and long-term commitment to these principles was expected at all levels – Partners, Associates, and support staff – with no exceptions.
Mobility was also a must, and our team has benefited from plenty of it. Looking at the business travel schedule of my colleagues the other day, I noticed that all European capitals were there, from Paris to London, from Vienna to Frankfurt, Geneva, and Brussels. I find this to be natural as business is becoming more and more global. At the same time, personally, I have pursued my adopted French nationality and the French community, and, although I spend a lot of time in my Bucharest office, I do work abroad a lot.
In your 20 years in the Romanian market (after practicing many years in leading international law firms in Paris and London, before 90's), it is safe to assume that you’ve witnessed, and had to deal with, a great deal of change in the legal advisory world. How much has commercial law changed in the country and how has that shaped the world of legal assistance service?
E.V.P.: Immensely. By all standards. First, it is the IT that has changed the structure of the service and this remains an ongoing process. What used to be my lawyer’s briefcase with files and statutes is now a laptop bag; I am changing smartphones constantly as new software is always needed. Basically, business went global in these past 20 years, and so has the legal profession. And we are constantly adapting to it and I hope that we will always stay at the forefront.
Turning to the legal services market in Romania, what does it look like today and what trends do you observe?
E.V.P.: I clearly see a consolidation process with maybe 7-8 law firms, asserted as the big firms or the top tier, handling the major projects. But there is a lot of movement in the second tier market, where one may see many new players, numerous mergers and take-overs, partnerships, etc. And finally, there is already a market for the niche firms, specialized one-sector or one-industry boutiques that run notable assignments.
What about the economy and the potential for growth of the legal service? Which sectors you see contributing mostly?
E.V.P.: Foreign direct investment, definitely. We have now conditions set for a major revival of investment interest for Romania. Strategically, institutionally, commercially, and legally. We will thus see soon major projects in Infrastructure, Agribusiness, Real Estate, IT & Telecommunications, and in the Energy field.
Additionally, a new M&A wave is on the horizon, workouts and sales of NPL portfolios will complete, and fresh capital will be infused in the economy. As a local independent firm, we will also pay particular attention to the Dispute Resolution and International Arbitration Practices.
How do you see the firm going forward — and the legal profession in general?
E.V.P.: We, at PNSA, will stick with the values and principles we embraced at the outset, 20 years back. We are a local, independent law firm. We see the team as our essential motor for development and growth. We believe in proper and competent, state of the art legal expertise and we seek to strike a good balance between people’s and the firm’s agendas.
As to the legal profession’s future, I would say that we are witnessing epochal changes, not only locally, but globally, which would probably yield structural modifications. There is an inherent fragmentation here; we will soon see new bodies of practices claiming autonomy, not only barristers and solicitors, but also arbitration, competition/antitrust, legal tax lawyers, etc.
What message do you have for your younger colleagues?
E.V.P.: I think it is their time for better engagement with the profession and civil society in general. Younger lawyers should get more active, voice their concerns, and act in the public arena. We need their new spirit, novel attitudes, knowledge acquired in times of open society and free markets, throughout these 20 years we are speaking about.
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